X-rated Diavel is born in Italy for the US
It seemed highly appropriate to be test-riding the new Ducati XDiavel along the famous Skyline Boulevard, located in the hills south of San Francisco.
For Ducati's North American HQ is located immediately to the east in the valley below, an oasis of real-time hedonism surrounded by several Apple R&D centres attempting to replicate similar excitement in the virtual world. Picking up the XDiavel in Cupertino, California was therefore like finding the first feet-forward Ducati at the epicentre of its target market. The cashed-up geeks of 'silicon valley' are precisely who Ducati has in mind as the buyers of this bike.
These folk are young and wide-minded, and not as prone therefore to the ancient American myth that patriotism dictates that your next cruiser must be a Harley, Victory, or Indian.
So the XDiavel is a cruiser made in Italy, tailored primarily to the tastes of US consumers, and is therefore a feet-forward motorcycle as we've never known one before. It has all the right design cues – a 755mm-high seat that's as low as the cushions on your couch, pegs that stretch the legs forward, fork legs raked out to extend the wheelbase, a fat rear tyre, belt drive, and wide upright handlebars.
Yet there's plenty that's still recognisable as Ducati DNA in this bike. The 90-degree V-twin still runs a compression ratio that causes big explosive bangs in the combustion chambers during the firing strokes, and there are horsepower enhancements like dual overhead camshafts, four-valve heads, wide 56mm throttle bodies, and variable valve timing.
The longer 71.5mm piston strokes that enlarge the cubic capacity from the Diavel's 1198cc to 1262cc are still smaller in their dimensions than the 106mm bore diameters shared by both models, and the X-bike still develops 115kW (156bhp) at 9500rpm and 129Nm at 5000, outputs and revs that totally shame the performance of every other cruiser on the market.
Ditto, the chassis is still recognisably Ducati, as it retains the trademark steel tube trellis frame, and displays the Bologna bike maker's preferences for single-sided swingarms, suspension adjustment and powerful brakes.
A nice handling-enhancing touch is the increase in fork offset over the steering head of the 'ordinary' Diavel. This allows the forks to be raked out to thirty degrees in true cruiser fashion while keeping the trail dimensions from blowing out, and is key to the XDiavel's retention of a decent dollop of the steering agility that defines a Ducati.
Also helping in this regard is the low mass of the XDiavel – at 247kg fully fuelled it is light for a cruiser, and svelte enough to invite complimentary handling comparisons to the 8kg-lighter Diavel.
Skyline Boulevard might be located within the borders of the USA, but it is hardly your typical American road. It runs along the ridges of coastal mountains and dips, sweeps, climbs, and curves every which way, to the point that it's mostly those mounted upon two wheels that use it – either professional-looking racing cyclists in training for the next multi-day tour or Californian sportsbike riders out for a blast.
For most the bouvlevard, the XDiavel felt right in its element despite the occasional touch-down of the footpegs and the kickstand in some of the tighter turns. At 40 degrees, the maximum permitted lean angles are generous for a cruiser, and the longer-stroke V-twin develops the accessible mid-range muscle that the athletic look of the bike promises. Few feet-forward motorcycles feel as capable on mountain roads as this one, provided the corners don't get too tight.
Which is precisely what happens at the boulevard's southern end, where the wide sweeping of a near-perfect hot-mix surface deteriorates into a narrow maze of bumpy and pot-holed first- and second-gear corners. Here the X-machine felt less in its element, the rear end bottoming out upon occasion and transferring the shocks into my spine.
The 50mm Marzoochi forks also felt at little underdone in their spring rates and damping oil flow, although to give the XDiavel its due, possibly only a Multistrada or a Hypermotard of the Ducati range would have felt at home on this under-resourced part of the boulevard.
Ducati has put plenty of goodies into the base XDiavel without resorting to full bling of the S-branded hero model. There's even an Inertia Management Unit (IMU) so that the eight-way traction control and three-way ABS systems can account for cornering lean angles in their actions. The instrument display is a full colour TFT screen that can integrate with your smartphone to provide better parking security and more info, and there's even a launch control system that will instantly confirm the XDiavel's ability to take down the hottest CVO-enhanced Harleys at traffic lights.
If the pegs and bars are little too 'American' in their positioning, they can be adjusted to provide up to 60 different riding configurations.
Only the lack of a clear sense of identity lets the XDiavel down. My 250-mile round trip through Skyline and SH9 to Santa Cruz and back to Cupertino would have been even more enjoyable on a more recognisable Ducati like a Monster, Hyper, or even a Diavel, and despite the engine changes, a low-comp under-stressed American V-twin is still more adept than the XDiavel at stress-relieving, low-speed cruisin' missions.
High performance isn't the reason most people buy a cruiser motorcycle, despite the strong commitment made by the XDiavel to providing it.
At a glance
Engine: 1262cc liquid-cooled dohc, DVT-equipped fuel-injected V-twin, 115kW (156bhp) at 9500rpm, 129Nm at 5000rpm
Transmission: Six-speed sequential gearbox, belt drive.
Chassis: Steel-tube trellis frame with single-sided alloy swingarm, 50mm inverted fully adjustable telescopic front forks with 120mm of travel; preload/rebound-adjustable monoshock with 120mm of travel.
Hot: The hottest-performing cruiser on the market has an agile handling chassis and looks to go into debt for; brilliantly-detailed with adjustable ergos and lots of electronics.
Not: Do cruiser buyers really value high performance? A Diavel without the X costs a couple of grand less and develops even more power and allows more exploitable lean angles.